Foreign Gardeners: Ryan, from California to Jordan

Ryan’s  studies and experience has taken him through Longwood Gardens and also the Jersusalem Botanic Garden, two places I know well and have been lucky to experience . So when I learned that Ryan accepted a position in Jordan, I knew that his experience in Israel at the J.B.G. would be a great benefit to him and looked forward to seeing what kind of work he was getting into. This series provided the perfect opportunity to learn more about Ryan’s work, what he is witnessing in the landscape and see how it is progressing. Enjoy his story and his stunning images. – James


with Rheum palaestinum in the Badia Eastern Desert, Jordan

 Hello Ryan, would  you be so kind as to share with our readers your name and what is your current work position?

Hello, I am Ryan Guillou, the Nursery Manager at the Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan.


A cross-section of life in California

Where are you from originally in the United States and when did you make the move abroad?

  I am from Venice Beach, California and I moved to Amman, Jordan in November of 2015 for my position.

Amman Sunset
Another Amman Sunset

What was it that spurred the big move halfway across  the world to Jordan?

I wanted to move back to the Middle East and I liked the idea of playing a role in a budding garden’s development.

“Though my staff did not work with growing plants previously, they have a good eye for recognizing and distinguishing plants because of what is palatable or not for their herds….”

Nursery work in the Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan (click on image for more)

What an exciting, and admirable, reason for your decision.  With that sort of role you must be responsible for some interesting tasks in the garden, can you give us some background on what those responsibilities include?

As you might expect my job is to grow native Jordanian plants for the garden (we only grow natives), but because horticulture as we think of in the West is not as widely appreciated, the role has expanded a great deal.  My staff are from the local community whose primary income before working at the garden was herding sheep and goats.  I spend much of my time working with my staff and teaching them about how to propagate and grow, where the plants come from in Jordan, and how we can use different methods and materials to expand production and make our facilities more efficient and organized.  Though my staff did not work with growing plants previously, they have a good eye for recognizing and distinguishing plants because of what is palatable or not for their herds.

stunning views, camels and plants: details of past trips (click on image for more)

Another large part of my job is to go on collecting trips throughout Jordan.  All of our plants at the garden are wild collected, so I can be in the field 1 to 3 times per month for several days collecting with the botany team and bringing members of my growing team along when space is available.  Most of my staff have not seen much of the country, so it is vital that they understand where the plants we grow are from in order to take care of them properly in the nursery.


Carpets of native plants, Anemones and Lupines (click on image for more)

Tell us about a typical day for you in the gardens at work?

On average I spend most of my time checking on various growing and development projects between my two nursery sites, giving out money then threatening them (jokingly) for receipts,  and managing expenses.  I swear, we gardeners get into this profession to work with plants hands on, but as we rise in position we find ourselves more and more behind a desk!!!  We have hundreds of thousands of plants to grow, so we have many deliveries of various materials coming in to keep operations moving and expand facilities.  It is not very often that I get to actually plant anything anymore, but the staff are becoming more and more experienced and knowledgeable so it allows me to work on planning for other projects.


Plants of the Eastern Desert and Wadi Araba, Jordan (click on image for more)

Living in another country is a much different experience than visiting other countries.   What do you think are the benefits of living abroad and working in the horticulture field?

There is a great deal of habitat disturbance in Jordan, and gardening is not as developed here as in the West.  When I tell people what I do and then explain the role of a botanic garden, people are always shocked and smile.  I think the best benefit is the appreciation people give me for having such an unusual job in a country that is surrounded by such conflict.  Many people I meet tell me that it is refreshing to finally meet an expat in Jordan that does not work in the humanitarian field.

There must be some difficulties that you have encountered while adapting to  living in Jordan, what types of struggles would those be?

The two biggest would be the language barrier and a lack of openness to new ideas.  However, my Arabic is improving and I can function quite well with most day to day issues along with communicating ideas and directions with my team.  As for trying to get others to accept new ideas…… I have learned to adopt a more local method by ignoring and doing things the way I want them to be done.  When in Rome…..or the Middle East!

Were there any surprising changes that you didn’t expect but have welcomed and enjoyed?

Assimilating into the Jordanian society and my transformation into a local.  I love being able to just blend in and not have a taxi driver or a store clerk suspect that I am a foreigner.  I have caught my self starting sentences with ” In Jordan we…”, and even my American accent has changed when I speak English.  Whenever I visit the States people ask where I am from.


(click images for more)

You mentioned that there seems to be a lack of openness to new ideas there, so how has that affected you as a horticulturist?

The most direct struggle relates to my job.  I spend most of my time trying to find growing materials, otherwise we would spend a fortune to import everything from Europe.  We are so spoiled as horticulturists in the West with so many basic resources at our disposal such as ready made potting mixes, different types of containers and growing medias, and experts to ask for advice.  Despite the struggle, I have learned to become very resourceful and creative with what can be re-purposed or made from scratch.  As a plant nerd it can also be frustrating not to have the large variety of plants at retail nurseries like I had in California.  There are so many plants I would love to grow at my apartment, but I can not get my grubby little mits on them!

How did you find your current job in Jordan all the way from California?

     Oddly enough, Facebook.  My previous manager who hired me posted the position on the Group for Emergent Professionals page.  I responded, and here I am now.

What advice would you give to others who are looking to move from one country to another?

     Make sure you do your research about the city where you are planning to move.  It is vital to know if the position, cost of living, culture, and social seen  together can provide you with a life that is affordable and keep you sane.  Moving to a new country is a challenge and your overall happiness is most important to handle the stresses of the new environment.

Did you do anything to prepare yourself for this type of life change?

I had some long talks with myself  about whether taking this job was the right move for me, and I made a pros and cons list.  Once I decided to take the position I used different social media sites like to make friends before I arrived.  For me it is very important to have friends to see after work, and they have truly become my family here.


Wadi: a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season. (click for more)

Immersing oneself in a new environment is always a sensory experience, there is so much to see and absorb. Tell us about a great memory you have had so far in your new environment?

Definitely the first time I entered Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan.  The massive sandstone mounts and sweeping red sand dunes still amaze me after visiting dozens of times.

What misconceptions do people usually have about what it is like to live and work in Jordan?

One of the largest misconceptions is that Jordan is unsafe due to the conflicts in the region.  Though presence of ISIS in neighboring Syria and Iraq are not to be taken lightly, Jordan is a very safe and stable country and I do not feel that my life is at threat.  Another misconception………. yes, you can find alcohol and drink in Jordan.  Amman has a variety bars and pubs, and Jordan even grows its own wine and produces a local craft beer.

If you could go back and give your younger self some advice before this change, what would it be?

Nothing really.  Life is an adventure and you just need to accept all of the ups and downs that come with it.  I am glad I moved, and I can honestly say that my younger self never expected to end up where my current self is now.

Flowering bulbs and Ryan for scale with Urginea maritima

New country and new plants, do you have a new favorite plant that you can grow now that you weren’t able to  before?

     That is a tough one because I am from a Mediterranean climate and now working in another Mediterranean climate.  Probably many of the bulbs like Fritillaria persica which need some cold to flower.  Coastal Southern California is too mild for many commonly grown geophytes to flower properly, if at all.

Relaxing on the Balcony

It sounds like you have found your place and its wonderful to see you thriving and happy in your position there. If and when you return home to live, what horticultural or life lesson have you learned from your current country, that you will remember and take back with you?

     The importance of putting effort into your happiness.  Living here is not always easy and it especially was not in the beginning, but I put a great deal of effort into meeting friends, creating my community, and improving my work environment in order to create a life for myself that is fulfilling.  It is up to me to decide if I want to be miserable or happy, and I will take that mantra with me to wherever I move next.

Thank you for being a part of our Foreign Gardener Series, it has been a pleasure to look into your world and seeing the incredible experience you are having through horticulture.  If you would like to reach out the Ryan, please leave your comment or question below and we will happily pass it on.  To do some further reading, click on the link below. Thank you again Ryan. – James

Royal Botanic Garden of Jordan

Wildflowers of Tony Grove, Utah

Tony Grove columbine
Columbine, Aquilegia sp.

This week we feature a guest post by our friend and horticultural colleague from the western side of the United States:

I’m Heather – a very fitting name for a horticulturist I think. I graduated from Utah State University with a degree in horticulture, and then, after a year and half stint in Argentina, I returned to get another degree in plant science; but this time emphasising in weeds/invasive species management.  I like to say that I cover the spectrum from the plants people hate to the plants people love.

I’ve lived near the mountains for most of my life (my hometown is situated at the mouth of Logan Canyon near the Utah-Idaho border) and I love getting out to explore and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer.  In fact, one of the highlights of my job is that I get to spend so much time in the mountains I love – and get paid for it!  While I’m usually looking for the weeds when I’m on the job, as a horticulturist and aspiring naturalist my focus is generally on the wildflowers when I’m hiking for recreation.


Tony Grove lake has been a favorite Logan Canyon destination of mine for as long as I can remember. Its popularity with Logan residents far pre-dates me, however. In the late 1800s-early 1900s it was a favorite spot with the wealthier residents of Logan (nicknamed “Tonies”, which is where the lake gets its name) who would spend days, or even weeks, each summer in the cooler temperatures of this high mountain lake. Originally a glacial-fed lake, in the 1930s it was enlarged, and has more recently been reinforced. Now it is fed through spring snow-melt and other mountain streams. The rugged cliffs on the western edge of the lake are further evidence of glacial activity.

Tony Grove wildflowers east

At over 8,000 ft elevation, it is also the main trailhead for many of the Mt. Naomi Wilderness trails.  My favorite of these takes you north for a couple miles before heading west and dropping down into another glacial cirque lake: White Pine lake, watched over from the North by Mt. Gog, and from the south by Mt. Magog. Because it’s a bit harder to get to (no road access; trails only) this lake is generally quieter with much less people-traffic. The meadows along this trail have spectacular shows of wildflowers in mid to late summer. Though the paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), monkshood (Aconitum columbianum), lupine (Lupinus argenteus), and geranium (Geranium richardsonii and G. viscosissimum) are most abundant in late July, if you go a little earlier in the season you can also catch the last of the columbine (Aquilegia sp.), glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), and heart-leaved arnica (Arnica cordifolia).

Geranium viscosissimum and Pedicularis groelandica, or elephant head
Aconitum columbianum, monkshood and Castilleja sp., paintbrush

If you aren’t feeling up to the 8-mile (round-trip) hike to White Pine lake, there is a more casual 1-mile loop around the lake. On the south end of the lake there is a nice beach area for wading or launching a canoe.  On the north end, you can find elephant head (Pedicularis groelandica)- a very unique plant, indeed.

Tony Grove arnica
Arnica cordifolia

Summer isn’t the only time for a good nature show, however. At Tony Grove, and other higher elevation locations, autumn is equally – if not more – stunning. Cooler temperatures and shorter days mean the aspens (Populus tremuloides) will soon be turning gold. A beautiful contrast against the dark green of the spruces, pines, and firs and the bright blue of the sky.

To follow, click on the links below:

Website: Heather’s Home and Garden Heather’s Home and Garden Instagram

Heather’s Home and Garden Facebook

Sojourn* St. John, Baobab & Johnny Panessa

Johnny Panessa, St. John, Baobab tree- Plinth et al.

“I awoke early, like I do every vacation day. Just as the sun was creeping up, I read about the last Baobab tree left on St. John. I sipped my morning elixir repetitively. In between pulls from my coffee cup I read a sentence at a time. I learned that the slaves from West Africa planted seeds around the plantations.These were some of the only few Baobabs in the Americas. This specific survivor is the last on St. John but a few more exist in USVI over on St. Croix. The map lines I was fingering equated an hour walk from where I was sitting to the Seiban Plantation. This beauty stands adjacent to the plantation ruins. I grabbed some cameras, too little water and refilled my coffee to a miniscus. I sweat and heavy breathed through the hills and found the trail-head to Seiban. Having a destination had me pushing forth through the extreme heat as I was battling a severe case of dry-mouth. I found it out there, photographed its curvy body and returned to the rental house 2 hours later. I arrived before anyone else wanted a coffee.” – Johnny Panessa

links to:  Johnny Panessa Bio & Instagram

Sojourn*  is a mood piece consisting of one image accompanied by a short story capturing the time and place of a certain travel memory of a recent trip or one from the past, from anywhere around the world.  To submit your piece to Plinth et al. click here.




As the mercury drops, so does one expect to see a chilling reminder of its presence. And for a coastal peak in sunny Southern California, an unusual cold snap brings about a frosting of white. Locals remark in awe from their boardwalk at how one night of frost weeks prior has resulted in such snow drift so close to their beachside living. Nothing seems to make sense, the swaying palm trees are unscathed and Angelenos are walking around in their normal January attire of shorts and sandals, yet the seemingly endless sandy beaches are flanked by these frosted peaks. Curious minds dare to investigate this rare showing of winter, but find a floral display just as rare of an occurrence as snow. Ceanothus cunneatus, synced together by that one chilling night blankets the scrubby hillsides in white. The honey-like fragrance of their blooms fills the air, and for a couple short weeks the beachside residents enjoy this winter white that they tried so hard to escape. ~Ryan Guillou


Sojourn* Italy


The heat of a summer day in Rome can be unbearable, and the day that I was there this past August was no exception. As I walked along with my tour group seeing the broken walls and pillars of past civilizations I happened to notice plants breaking through the cracks of monuments and climbing over walls and rubble reclaiming what was once a time before man. I imagined how many times this particular location I was at was rebuilt and how many times it was destroyed leaving nothing but ruins. There is something beautiful and romantic in the way in which a plant when left to its own devices as the English say, can create beauty that cannot come from human hands. Amongst these wild species was a non-native to Italy, but one that was seemingly at home in the warm Mediterranean climate, Plumbago auriculata. The pale blue flowers amongst the blazing sun and deep green cypress is a cool contrast in an environment where the bright colors of Pelargoniums and Bougainvilleas command notice. What was once an excavated site, which had become a sunken garden, I immediately felt relief seeing the sea of Plumbago appear as a mirage of cool water to rest my eyes. I could have walked into it, the color of a bleached Mediterranean sky was just perfect. I know at that moment that two weeks later or two weeks earlier it couldn’t have looked nearly as beautiful as it was now, I was thankful for that moment amongst the ruins. – Brandon George

Sojourn* New York

Jennifer Neumann on Bannerman Castle, New York

Destination Unknown

An arrangement of stairs set beneath the idyllic Hudson Valley landscape. The landscape, mottled by fresh summer rain, held a damp, earthy scent.  The visit was a step back to a time when traipsing to the family home in the countryside was a luxury for the prosperous seeking to escape the confines of life in New York City. Standing here admiring the worn facade of Bannerman Castle on the serene Hudson River, I am struck by the beauty and simplicity of the structure so rich with detail and yet not untouched by the passage of time. As I stood there, I tried to imagine the island in its heyday: with lush fruitful gardens and twisting, hidden paths. What had Pollepel Island been like then? Surely it was brimming with life as a family hideaway steeped in traditions that stretched from Scotland to Brooklyn and even with historical ties to the American Revolution. Here I stood in the serenity, enthralled by the staircase on this island. I found myself wondering about the staircase to nowhere on an island long abandoned. I found myself pondering on a deeper and unexpected level. To wonder where I am headed in life sounds cliché. What does the future hold and what might the past imply? Where could an imperfect, weathered staircase on an island (of all places) possibly lead? That anonymity is exactly what perfectly demonstrated the complexity and circular route of life. Past, present or future, we all encounter staircases we must climb and, at times, we may feel as if we are alone and unsure of our heading. But if a staircase on an island can be so explicitly beautiful, then, no matter the path,  I know I am headed in the right direction.

                                                                                  – Jennifer Neumann , text & photo

                                                                                    Bannerman Castle, New York

  Sojourn, a new project focusing on a single glimpse of special travel moments by friends of Plinth et al.